Mark Cook is one of the three founders of TRACS International group of companies which became part of AGR in 2008. In addition to his current role as Principal Reservoir Engineer and a trainer at AGR’s TRACS Training division, Mark also teaches students in the Universities of Aberdeen, Heriot Watt and University College Dublin. We caught up with Mark to uncover his career story.
Please give us an overview of what your day is like
I work primarily as a principal reservoir engineer at AGR’s Aberdeen offices, delivering a mixture of technical consultancy and training development. On the technical consultancy side, the work mostly covers reserves audit, asset valuation and project framing; whilst on the training front, I specialise in reservoir engineering, economics and risk analysis.
Additionally, whenever the opportunity presents itself to develop something new, such as incorporating our process engineering into our service portfolio, I put my hand up to try to broaden our offering and introduce new services.
Please describe your TRACS - AGR journey
Mark Graham, Frank Jahn and I started TRACS Training and Consultancy business back in 1992. I recall we spent our first year developing training materials, vying for business and taking very long walks at lunchtime, until we eventually got enough work to keep us busy.
At that point I developed reservoir engineering, economics and risk analysis courses and together we successfully built and delivered E&P graduate induction courses for BP, Hess, PDO (Oman) and Petronas. These clients formed a foundation which gave us a stable income stream and the opportunity to truly grow the business. We were then able to recruit staff, expand our office space and acquire all important software.
From left: Mark, Mark Graham and Frank Jahn on one of the first assignments in Russia
In 2004, I became the general manager — a job nobody really wanted to take on, as we all preferred the technical work and training delivery. With dedicated management time, this allowed us to start building processes into our business and continue growing whilst keeping our overheads low. At that point we were also running a successful office in Moscow and our headcount was around 40 strong.
In 2008 TRACS, by then with a team of around 75, joined AGR. This merger offered our clients a combined force to deliver integrated projects, which still forms a strength of AGR’s delivery in today’s market. We were able to combine subsurface studies with well management and my title changed to VP Reservoir Management UK and Russia.
Having weathered the 2008 - 2009 challenges of the global financial crisis, the AGR team was able to continue to expand the business and in 2011, I passed the VP role over to Mike Wynne (currently heading the Reservoir Management team at AGR UK) after which I returned to working as a reservoir engineer and trainer, on a part time basis.
TRACS and AGR have enjoyed an amazing journey, enabling me to gather a broad variety of experience within reservoir engineering, commercial and corporate leadership.
Tell us about your professional development at TRACS and AGR
Starting TRACS, building it profitably and successfully merging with AGR have been simply outstanding. My tenure at TRACS and AGR has allowed me to develop technical skills, management skills and to travel the world delivering training, which I enjoy.
In reservoir management, we take on many different projects, typically over 100 projects per annum in the UK alone. The variety is instructive and challenging and, we’ve built up a tremendous mental library of experience that’s very well respected.
The training is stimulating – building the courses allows us to structure our thinking and widen our experience and the delivery keeps us on our mettle. For me, being in front of a group is akin to being an actor on stage. In my opinion, it’s firstly about the preparation, and then the delivery style. We have developed an interactive and highly participative style of training – learning by doing, not death by Powerpoint, as Mark Bentley, our inimitable Training Director
Mark and Mark Bentley, TRACS Training Director, testing out teambuilding accessories for a training course
Why have I stayed with TRACS and AGR for 25 years? It’s simply about the people I work with and the variety of challenges. We have been able to attract many of the best professionals in our industry, keep the organisation flat, give people responsibility, respect each other’s skills and accept occasional quirkiness. I can honestly say that since leaving my previous employer, I have not considered working within any other group.
What did you do before joining AGR?
Prior to my TRACS and AGR story of the last 25 years, I worked for Shell International for 11 years. I finished University with a Chemical Engineering first and joined up as a Reservoir Engineer. Shell offered good training and travel which led me to postings in Oman, Tanzania, London, Aberdeen and Holland.
They also kindly sponsored a distance learning MBA – which subsequently proved to be rather handy. Shell are a great employer, offering the opportunity to develop a sound technical base. Additionally, they treated me very fairly. Most importantly though, whilst at Shell, I met my wife Mary, also a reservoir engineer, and we have raised four healthy, considerate children. At least one of them will become a professional engineer – predictable I suppose.
What does AGR do to enable your professional advancement and work-life balance?
AGR have provided me the freedom to choose not just my line of work, but when and where I work. My current part-time role is a privilege which I find motivating and it allows me to indulge in hobbies at home.
The travel for AGR's TRACS Training is a treat – in the last year I have worked for the first time in Myanmar, Japan, Thailand and Hungary. As well as the opportunity to develop management skills, I continue to learn from my colleagues at work. The AGR community is supportive and technically highly accomplished - partly a result of a phrase I took to heart; “always recruit people who are smarter than yourself”.
Graduate induction programme
Teaching field development planning during OpenAir course in Scotland
AGR’s Training division which grew out of TRACS International group is celebrating its 25th anniversary
along with AGR’s 30th anniversary this year.